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Airbnb Crashes at Santa Barbara City Council Meeting

Santa Barbara leadership unified in opposition to home-sharing in the city

Defenders of Airbnb and home sharing held a press conference prior to Tuesday’s Santa Barbara City Council meeting.
Defenders of Airbnb and home sharing held a press conference prior to Tuesday’s Santa Barbara City Council meeting. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Airbnb may be soaring in San Francisco, but the Internet vacation hook-up site isn't as hip in Santa Barbara.

The Santa Barbara City Council decided not to create a home-sharing ordinance on Tuesday, despite a last-minute push by Airbnb and "shared economy" advocates who want to rent their homes out to tourists to make money.

The council could have directed staff to draft an ordinance, but decided not to.

"What happened here is that technology changed," said Councilman Dale Francisco. "The internet and the web suddenly allowed people to communicate very easily all over the world and become their own hotel essentially.

"That opportunity was not there 20 years ago. What has not changed is the zoning ordinance. I know there's technology out there that allows this, but our zoning doesn't."

Francisco said residential zoning was created so that "families could have a certain expectation of stability in their neighborhood."

The council's decision to take no action served as a wake-up call to advocates of a "shared economy," an economic ethos that suggests that the trading of services and resources helps fuel a society among primarily young professionals.

Many homeowners said that renting out their home for less than 30 days allows them to pay a mortgage in Santa Barbara, and gives tourists an affordable place to call home for several days, away from the typical hotel or resort environment. 

"I do believe home-sharing is a very valuable way for people like me to supplement their income," said homeowner Dorothy Wallstein. 

She was among a group of about 15 people defending Airbnb at a press conference just prior to Tuesday's council meeting.

A large crowd was on hand Tuesday when the Santa Barbara City Council decided not to create a home-sharing ordinance. Click to view larger
A large crowd was on hand Tuesday when the Santa Barbara City Council decided not to create a home-sharing ordinance. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Toussaint Miles, a San Francisco-based Airbnb consultant, showed up for the event, but didn't formally address the media at the press conference. He sat in the back row, working on his Apple laptop computer for most of Tuesday's council discussion.

The Airbnb and home-sharing debate has shined a bright light on the collision of affordable housing, neighborhood preservation, tourism and a new wave of young professionals who are migrating to Santa Barbara from bigger cities, bringing their lifestyle and personal sensibilities with them.

Airbnb released a report a day ahead of the meeting. According to its data, 770 "hosts" in Santa Barbara have rented out their homes to an average of 2.4 guests per trip between Nov. 1, 2014, and Oct. 31, 2015.

These homeowners have earned about $9,600 throughout the year, according to Airbnb.

But council members blasted Airbnb and their advocates' perspective on the issue.

Santa Barbara suffers from a major housing shortage, they said, and homeowners who choose to rent their homes to tourists not only take revenue from hotel owners, but they eliminate affordable housing opportunities for working-class people.

"Santa Barbara wants to be visitor-friendly, but it has to be focused on the community first," said Councilman Gregg Hart. "We have enormous numbers of people commuting to the city of Santa Barbara simply because they can't afford to live in Santa Barbara."

Hart said housing options are fundamental to the city.

"The housing crisis is so serious and severe," Hart said. "We have to get back to the equilibrium we used to have. Houses are for people to live in and hotels are for people to stay."

Santa Barbara resident Willy Quinn, however, said that home-sharing is great for tourism.

"I think it is a great thing," Quinn said. "It brings a lot of money to Santa Barbara. I can't understand how any city council or county could think about banning something that brings so much money to Santa Barbara."

Councilman Frank Hotchkiss said that it is "self-evident" that when you take rooms and homes off the market, the prices for what's left go up, and when you put them back, the cost goes down.

"That's the way cause and effect normally works," Hotchkiss said.

Councilman Randy Rowse pushed back a bit on all of the "shared economy" talk.

He said neighborhoods are hurt when there's a steady stream of tourists traversing in-and-out of homes. He said even if it is true that people are sharing resources in a way they had not in the past, "it is not everyone else's problem around you to solve your cash flow needs."

Affordable-housing advocate Micky Flacks said vacancy rates in the city are "approaching zero," and that anything that negatively affects availability should be greatly scrutinized.

"Airbnb, one of the 'bs' should stand for billions," Flacks said. "It is hardly a company that is part of the shared economy."

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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